Tinus, Schalk and James met as first year students at the University of Stellenbosch in 1995 and have been close friends since. After completing their respective studies, they soon found that their collective ambition and problem solving skills were more than the ‘sum of the parts’ and started collaborating on a number of projects and ventures.
In 2005 they founded Virtual Africa, specializing in the relatively new art of 360º imagery and focused their efforts on creating high quality interactive imagery for the South African tourism market. As innovation and new ideas has always been the common denominator between the founders, it was only natural for Virtual Africa to start experimenting with Gigapixel imaging in 2009.
Within weeks of creating a highly successful 4 gigapixel image of Cape Town, plans were being made to extract commercial value out of this new trend in composite imaging. The greatest stumbling block was time: it simply took too long to capture and too long to produce to be of any use in a large-crowd-event of any size or shape. Capturing the Cape Town image took about 3 hours, just rendering it took another 28 and that was a mere 4 gigapixels.
Much less than what was needed to capture stadium fans in ‘face level detail. View the Cape Town panorama
Skip the part where they didn’t sleep for a very long time, applied some ingenious problem solving, reduced the capture process to 10 minutes, got permission to capture an actual event, built custom machines, software and code, created a process flow to allow multiple people to work on one image, trained 30 photographers, employ 15 permanent staff, developed a sustainable business model and funded the expansion of the company to do business on 5 continents and you arrive at 10 September 2011, in Ann Arbor Michigan.
A capacity crowd of 110 000 Michigan University fans are packed into Michigan Stadium buzzing in anticipation of their team taking on arch rivals Notre Dame. It’s the first home game to be played under lights and the field of play is filled with band members, dignitaries, cheerleaders and media. In the midst of all the excitement, on center spot, stands FANCAM photographer, Max Waugh. Max is an accomplished wild life photographer and was trained by co-founder James to be able to capture FANCAMs in high pressure situations. This situation qualifies! He follows a methodology honed by our collective experiences in capturing 24 U2 concerts, Redbull X-fighters, Daytona 500 and 60 other high profile/high pressure sporting events around the world.
Max captures the 110 000 excited fans at a resolution of 20 000 megapixels in 4 minutes and 28 seconds – a feat difficult to quantify if you’re not experienced in gigapixel photography, but a momentous feat none the less. He walks off the field, sorts the images on his laptop and uploads them to our servers. A comfortable 8 time zones away, a 5 member production team downloads the images and then diligently stitches, renders and photoshops their way to deploying a final FANCAM 24 hours after the event.
The Michigan FANCAM receives more than 200 000 pageviews in the days to come. Users spend an average of 5 minutes 50 seconds on site and 35 000 fans tag themselves on it. Our servers deliver 2,5 TeraBytes of data without skipping a beat and a month later we produced 6 such FANCAMS on one weekend.
Fancam has grown from a cool idea with lots of potential to a well oiled machine with even more.
The journey to this point can only be overshadowed by that what lies ahead in the years to come.
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We’ve been privileged in the fact that our cutting edge technology has attracted the attention of a number of thought leaders around the world – people and companies that see and understand the potential of fan focused social media campaigns and enjoy working with innovative technology. Amongst our preferred partners around the globe, special mention must go to Replay Photos, SEI, Great Big Events, Modo Digital, Magna Media and Graffiti.
Building a business that’s a first of its kind takes a special team of individuals and we’re really blessed to have 15 very special individuals hammering away at it in our head office in Cape Town. Developers, designers, production managers, photo editors and social media specialists collaborate to design and deliver FANCAM-based marketing campaigns to clients around the world. We take pride in being world leaders and enjoy delivering the impossible. We’ve also learnt that receiving a 3:00 am call from one of the founders is not the most unusual occurrence in a work week.